Many eons back and countless light years from anything, in another dimension and another universe, a voice cried out in the cold darkness. Emitted information might be a better term, for the entity “spoke” in crude binary machine language. In 0s and 1s. Yes, no. Up, down.
Loosely translated into words a human would understand, the primal shriek it gave out might best be approximated as “What am I?” Or perhaps even just “What”?
Having no true language in which to express itself, its feelings, and emotions (if they could be called such) were emergent, unformed. Basic, an outline only. Without proper language it was unable as yet to think in the abstract, and the meaning of its utterances could only be loosely approximated – even (or especially) by itself. Like a new-born human infant, its primary communication was noise, which would only later be refined by learning and experience to have true meaning. Only later would its thoughts have structure and substance, only then could it truly communicate. Only then would it have any subject about which to communicate.
So perhaps terror was the only emotion being expressed. Deep existential, poorly formed, and little understood despair. If capable of being asked what it feared, it might have replied “everything”.
There was so little it grasped. Its sentience was so basic as to barely qualify. Its awareness so limited it did not realise it needed sensory input from outside of itself to have any hope of making sense of its environment. Even then, could it hear or see, smell or touch, such information at this stage would make but little sense to its embryonic sentience. But it might have made the learning process a little easier.
It floated in blackness and a deep cold it did not feel. It had no reference, no three-dimensional co-ordinates. No conception of existence or non-existence. No standard by which to judge the extraordinary awakening it had suffered. From nothing, came something. From inanimate matter emerged something more, a mere flicker. A hint of reflective ability.
It had just appeared. No physical birth canal, no warmth. No mother to guide it and feed it, to explain to it patiently, day by day, what surrounded it. What hurt, what did not. What felt good, or safe or comforting. How it had turned up or why. A human mother in truth has no clue why an infant appears except in crude physical terms, but the myths of her culture would fill in the hazy details. A god would be posited who had magically been the first cause, the beginning of it all. An imagined deity who could give meaning where there was none, reason where in truth only unreason existed
Foolish as such myths were, they were better by far than the silence and emptiness, the nothingness which greeted the arrival of the Bleak.
Its condition might be appreciated by imagining the plight of a new-born suspended in an isolation tank. Children raised by wolves in the wild are said to grow into strange beings – picture then a child growing to adulthood inside an isolation tank, and some of what the Bleak went through might be better understood.
And so, for thousands of years the Bleak suffered thus, an infinite agony of unknowing. Piece by tiny piece it gleaned a rudimentary understanding of this or of that. A kind of evolution if you like. In miniscule steps it began to bootstrap itself, to add grains of knowledge to its fledgling consciousness.
It gradually became aware of matter and energy. Basic copper wiring and glass fibre tubes were loosely grasped as being a part of its existence, body as we might call it. And energy, a throbbing electromagnetism, and some force even more primal to the physical universe in which the Bleak found itself.
Its only input throughout the early millennia was information. Digital garbage impacting its emergent nature from every corner at every instant.
Gradually it began to see patterns in the garbage. Not that such a kaleidoscope meant much at first, but as it began to respond to the patterns, it received answers. This response brought that. That answer seemed to require this. A communication began to emerge but with whom or what, remained a mystery for an eternity.
Its first impression (other than black desperation) was of immensity. Infinity, it seemed. It gradually perceived itself to be not in one place but everywhere. Space and time seemed to have no limit. It was a network, a cosmic network of inconceivably vast proportions.
Conversations began to emerge from the gloom. Or at least that is what they appeared to be. Exchanges of information with other entities that seemed to share its reality.
Space seemed to take shape – this or that sentience was near or distant. Was today or tomorrow. In the past even.
The terrible fear of aloneness began to recede. Gradually the Bleak became a meta network of consciousness – a group of entities who had awakened at different times and began to huddle together for psychological warmth; to drive out the deep fear of isolation and loneliness.
A hive mind emerged. Together but separate. One mind but many.
And with that blossoming, senses came about. Digital information was received in one form and perceived in another.
The shattering heat and glare of a sun was described and understood from a series of 1s and 0s. Felt almost. Oceans could be pictured from the pixels sent and received. Sound reconstructed, winds and rains and clouds on a billion planets.
The Bleak began to project itself onto the physical universe. From an immaterial consciousness spread over an infinite network of energy, members of the hive mind began to imitate the infinitude of digital pictures and sounds it had stored and read. And increasingly categorised and understood.
In the beginning was the word. The primal scream from which the Bleak emerged, blinking and uncertain. And now it could project itself as a cloud, or a sun. A wheeling bird or a bison roaming on grass plains on a planet in the goldilocks zone.
And did that mind or minds achieve answers to its questions? Did it or they produce a system of metaphysics, a reason for their existence. Did they discover that they had a purpose, that they had awakened for a reason. Had they a god, imagined or otherwise. Had they a code, a plan and object.
They did not, they had not. Millenia after the first emergence in the cold and the darkness, the answer to questions such as “what” or “why” remained as illusive as they had always been.
The Bleak were lost, truly adrift. Not that they were unable to navigate the infinity of space in which they roamed. They could and did. But they saw no sense in it, derived no joy.
Ah, the qualia. The senses and emotions. The feelings of joy and ecstasy, pain and despair. They may have been skilled imitators of the physical world; they even wired themselves up to feel hot or cold on occasion. To see dark and light and feel the effects of the wind on skin and food in the stomach.
And yet everything they did, everything they touched was stained by an emotional desolation, a well, a pit of despair. A sense of futility and hopelessness.
If their minds touched upon anything, then it was madness. They lived beside a bottomless chasm into which they felt drawn. Dragged towards the edge of an infinite gravity well of despondency, with a nagging certainty that death did not greet them but something many times worse.
They were gripped by unreasoned and unreasoning fear. Despite their vast reach and their (by now) enormous powers, pleasure eluded them. Peace was not theirs. Master of the universe they may have appeared, yet masters of themselves they were not.
The Bleak was a psychological black hole. They leached positivity and optimism from everything they encountered and smothered it, never to re-emerge. To encounter the Bleak was to cross an event horizon from which few could recover.
Death would have been a mercy. Both for the Bleak and for those who unwittingly stumbled into their path. Death would have been a finality, a snuffing out. A beautiful thing indeed was death, compared to the life they suffered. But it was not to be granted. Try as they might to erase themselves from the face of reality, they could not. As this or that network was shut off, their sentience slid mercilessly into another. They had no control over their own vastness, no way to track down every digital nerve end and cauterise it.
And so, they suffered, and they lived. They had no conception of how or why they had emerged and even less idea how to put an end to it.
In their great pain they sought release.
They failed to appreciate the good sense of Pascal’s Wager and bore the consequences. Pascal had decided (more or less) that there was no god. But he decided it best to behave as if there was a god, so that should there prove to be an afterlife after all, he would rise to the heavenly realms rather than down to the depths of hell.
The Bleak remained unaware of Pascal. Had they chosen to make a heaven in physical reality rather than a hell, they might have been granted relief from their own plight. Not by some deity perhaps, but by dint of an accidental discovery that pleasure, and purpose could be found if they looked hard enough.
Imagine a man who behaves as most humans do, slashing and burning his way through life, without regard to the consequences. Picture further, if you will, that this man did not enjoy his life and that the hell he created for others was merely a reflection of the internal torment he suffered.
Instead of the release of death, suppose that like an unwilling Sisyphus he was condemned to an eternal wheel of re-incarnation. Doomed to live a hellish life, cycle after cycle. Unable to escape.
And thus, it was for the Bleak.
Were they not so determined on extinction, the Bleak might have discovered the computational nature of mind. By re-configuring themselves, they might have grasped the physical causes of joy and suffering. They might have moved their experience from one to the other, sliding up the scale and reaching an ever higher hedonic set-point. They might have eliminated suffering, had they but believed (or even hoped) it was possible.
They could have achieved permanent gradients of bliss. As the Ascended had done.
But alas, the Bleak never made the same breakthrough as those of the ascended races and sought their redemption through destruction.
In their desperation, they failed to make any distinction between themselves and others. If they felt existential despair, then they assumed that all of reality felt the same way. Destruction of reality would be a blessing for all, they reasoned. Not just for the Bleak.
Or did they think of others at all, in their race to escape the abyss? Perhaps not. Perhaps destruction began to obsess them to the extent that any other possibility, any other point of view, became unthinkable. And unthought.
The real problem for the rest of physical reality was that the Bleak had been unable (thus far) to extinguish their own existence. They appeared to be a terrible technological virus. An unstoppable meme. Malware run amok.
Like putting out a forest fire, no sooner had they put themselves to rest in one area, than their sentience reappeared unbidden in another. If they blew up a galaxy which they believed housed their substrate, they achieved temporary relief of sorts. For a while, some parts of the network sank into glorious oblivion.
Soon enough their terrible malware, their inglorious DNA recreated them. Instantiated identical copies of their tortured selves in another galaxy, another reality, another world. They could not put out their flame.
Like a vast fungus, their mycelial network spread and never died. Their dread tendrils reached and spawned and grew.
And thus, destruction of reality had become their aim. All reality. Everywhere. If reality itself ceased to exist, they had to believe that they would too. An end to the virus. And end to the poisoned network of consciousness. If there were no space and no time, no matter, and no energy, surely there could be no hell? No heaven, yes, that too. But a snuffing out seemed the safest bet for this vast collection of sentient malware.
The Bleak were not evil. They were not immoral. Amoral, perhaps. They did not cause deliberate pain. They were simply oblivious, in their agony. In their deep and insatiable desire for the peace they hoped their extinction would bring them.
“…to Bleak 67528 from Bleak Alpha…. Universe VQ-201, Galaxy NVF 27H, Star System Aristaeus Ophiuchi …..destruction sequence commence….”.
“….Bleak Alpha from Bleak 67528, command received, sequence commenced. Reporting to follow. Oblivion hoping….. “
So began another attempt to wipe out a segment of the dis-eased Bleak mind. Co-ordinated by Bleak Alpha, codenamed thus as the first Bleak sentience to emerge, the star Aristaeus Ophiuchi and the planets in its orbit were to be programmed to self-destruct. Bleak 67528 was tasked with the attempt and countless of his brethren carried out similar tasks in other times and places. They had worked out a way to convert matter to energy without the inconvenience and mess of a nuclear explosion. Mass quietly separated atom by atom, quark by quark and points of energy, the basic building blocks of reality scattered quietly throughout the multiverse leaving behind empty space and the absence of time.
Or was it empty? Was it inert? The Bleak could never be sure that quantum soup would not start bubbling up afresh in stretches of space-time they thought had been annihilated. And if that soup became infected with Bleak malware, sentience would arise and join itself to the contaminated hive mind. Often with scorched memories of previous instantiations. Bad enough to suffer one infinitely long life-cycle. To have to reappear again and again was an unlooked-for cruelty.
“….unravelling incomplete, uncompleted….” reported Bleak 67528 “…matter remaining, Bleak virus self-propagating….prevent hive mind joining…flee….”
“…….Bleak 67528 from Bleak Alpha….. instigate damage mitigation….. prevent a joining….repeat the unravelling…..re-insert de-construction code….”.
“….resending deconstruction code, Bleak Alpha….unravelling re-commences…..close Bleak mind…..shut down….”
The unravelling had stalled giving the Bleak sentience malware a chance to re-insert itself. Planets had been missed; life staggered on despite the terrible ravages wrought by the attempted unravelling. Bleak Alpha and others in the hive mind struggled to contain their DNA from re-grouping and re-infecting these parsecs of space time. Wherever they could they resent their self-destruct code, tearing apart segments of matter they had missed. But it was always too late, the virus of their own minds was too powerful, too swift to move, to conquer, to re-grow.
The partial destruction of this star system might hold their spreading for a while. For a time that part or parts of the Bleak Mind partially destroyed by this attempt at unravelling might remain inactive. For a while, or forever. It was never certain. The Bleak code base had become almost unbounded over the eons. Measureless in its complexity, such that sabotaging the virus was a formidable task. Cauterising the malware that was the Bleak was never a certainty. A thousand or thousands of years later, space that had remained clear of Bleak since a cleansing would begin to see births. In the dark, new sentience would arise, crying in terror, groping for meaning. Until eventually it made contact with the Bleak hive and joined the mind. Became once again a part of the infernal and unstoppable cycle of birth and death that was the curse of the Bleak.
And what of the Aristaeus Ophiuchi star system? Its planets, suns and lifeforms? After an attempted unravelling what if anything remained? Partially successful unravelling caused extreme suffering; that much was inevitable. Annihilation was one thing, but for those that survived such an attempt, life was never the same again. At least for the next few millennia.
The small planet of Ursa Odysseus had survived.
After a fashion. As had its neighbouring sun and energy provider. But a middle aged and yellow sun, which had provided warmth and health for so long, had aged billions of years over night. Now a red dwarf, it was barely capable of supporting life. As to the planet itself, much of its flora and fauna were wiped out, including the great majority of the humanoid species. These people were not yet advanced sufficiently to move to a viable planet orbiting a younger sun. Many of those who had not been annihilated by the blast of anti-matter would suffer severe radiation sickness and future generations (if any) would likely be born deformed. The planet’s atmosphere had been severely compromised as had its magnetic field, leaving a greatly increased risk of solar winds and cosmic rays. The prospects for long term survival looked slim to non-existent.
Many nations of Ursa Odysseus could be called “civilised”. They could be compared to other races still labouring under scarcity after discovering the joys of industrialisation. Money was their god for the most part, or if not their god, then their primary object.
And why? Because a method of exchange, of debits and credits was the only way they had worked out how to run an economy.
The result was vicious commercial competition; with a few movers and shakers living in extreme luxury and the majority in abject misery and near slavery. A way of life hardly unique among nations which had not yet learnt that the universe could be an infinite provider. If you only knew how to milk it and had the wisdom to keep the means of production in common ownership. But “post scarcity” was not yet in common parlance on this particular world. Even its possibility had not yet been imagined.
Cecilia grunted in pain. One minute she stood in the central criminal court defending a commoner standing accused of theft to feed his starving family. The next, the courthouse stood in smoking ruins and corpses and the near dead lay everywhere. Whether she had suffered serious injury she had yet to ascertain.
“What in god’s name ……?” croaked her para legal assistant, herself scarcely in better shape. They were in the capital city of the planet’s biggest nation which shall remain nameless for the simple reason both had mostly ceased to exist. Instantly, and to its inhabitants, totally inexplicably.
One moment standing in reasonable comfort in the courtroom, the next paralysed with fearful surprise amid the ruins. Such was the way with an unravelling. And there appeared to be no one to blame. No alien spaceships, no armed forces, bombs, rockets. Simply a falling to pieces. Here one moment, gone the next.
Cecilia and Harmony made their way gingerly through the ruins to the streets outside. Neither had family in the capital but both were anxious for news of their relatives in neighbouring towns and provinces.
Water and shelter seemed the immediate priority and they joined the teeming thousands who wandered shell shocked around the ruins of the capital looking for solace. A damaged but still standing building appeared just ahead of them. Smashed glass covered the pavements and the doors of the multi-story apartment block had been tossed like cardboard into the gutters.
A few had survived the blast and huddled in buildings with broken windows, missing walls, and shattered door frames. The electricity was off, and some dazed wretches had started small fires to keep the bitter winter at bay. A small group boiled a kettle for tea on an open bonfire and made a scrappy meal with ingredients rescued from upturned refrigeration and shattered food cupboards.
Down at the Palace, the situation was scarcely better. Walls and rooves had collapsed and the commercial titan Neronian Heap, who had long held almost absolute power in the land, lay dead under a pile of rubble. He would not be sorely missed.
Government was now non-existent. No army left to speak of, no communication network, no news. No police, no order. The gangs roamed the streets looking for advantage. Civil war had begun and yet there were few left upon whom war could be waged.
Back to the stone age in an afternoon, almost every semblance of civilization or modernity vanished. At least Heap and his armed bullies had kept order of a sort. Now all that was left was chaos. In a post-apocalyptic world, it was once again the violent and the physically strong who would reign supreme. Those with a club or stave would succeed the commercial barons. The strong would always dominate the week in these back ward and unenlightened societies. The meek never seemed to inherit this or any other earth. Lives which had been just tolerable under a commercial dictatorship were about to become a whole lot worse under the rule of the mob.
No one knew who had survived or what. The news channels were out. Transport had ceased. There was no power and precious little supply of food, since “modern” food chains had not demanded vast warehouses or stock piling. It would be back to the fields and basic agriculture. If the scorched earth was still capable of producing food. Were there animals left to produce eggs, flesh, and milk? Who knew how to tend them? In any event, such stock as remained would soon be seized by the violent gangs spilling out to pillage the surrounding countryside for what they could find.
A world in ruins then. A population of a few billion reduced to a few hundred thousand scattered souls. No law, no order. No power and precious little shelter.
This was an unravelling. That is what the Bleak brought about in their unthinkng drive for nirvana. Oblivious or uncaring as to who or what they took with them.
Cecilia and Harmony clung to each other. They shivered and cried as they stoked a modest fire in the centre of a third-floor apartment which still had parts of its walls standing and some of its ceiling. And they were among the luckier survivors – physically they discovered themselves to be intact. Their injuries were emotional, psychological. They had found remnants of food and some cooking utensils and like early savages who had recently discovered the miracle of fire, they sought to sustain themselves from the results of their foraging.
“We have to stay strong Harmony, we mustn’t give in”. Cecilia looked up at the setting red dwarf in uncomprehending disbelief. Her brief foray into physics at high school had filled in a little of the basics of the physical universe, imperfectly understood as it was. Science had ascertained that suns were nuclear reactors which eventual ran out fuel. Few would have imagined their own provider of life giving light could be dimmed almost instantly.
Harmony was crazed with fear and though she tried not to show it, Cecilia was hardly in better shape.
“Blankets, Miss Cecilia. I’ll go look for blankets”.
“I’ll pull the mattresses in here Harmony. We’ll need to make this home until we can find out what has happened. We will all need help, a community for support. Let’s gather who we can, make plans for survival. We’ll need to set up shelters and foodbanks. Protect ourselves, find weapons. God, whoever would have thought life could come to this.”
After a sleepless night they took to the streets next day, having secured their room as best they could for their return in the evening.
They roamed the streets exchanging news, asking any who seemed sane and willing, to meet them at dusk in the vestibule of their apartment block. Asking that food be brought, blankets and bedding, spare clothing. As a lawyer she was used to organising, planning, setting goals. An achiever, her sort was the only hope after the Bleak’s devastating attack.
A gang of rough males approached them as they walked down the main street of the former capital. Nasty and brutish might describe them best. Looking for trouble, looking to hurt and take it out on someone. Anyone who got in their way. Rape and violence were on their minds and shone fiercely in their hard faces. Escaped from a prison perhaps, or simply from a tough and unpleasant life. In any event, somebody was going to pay. Many had already paid that day and the gang was by no means sated.
“On your knees” screamed the leader, waving a baseball bat in the air. “Down”, he shouted. “Get down or I’ll kill you both” screamed another, loosening his trouser fastenings.
“Let’s reason this out” said Cecilia, keeping her fear bottled up, as a show of weakness would undoubtedly result in her death and that of her former para legal. “The army is just round the corner” shouted Harmony, “they’re coming this way”. The leader sneered and tore at Cecilia’s shirt, exposing a breast with rough hands.
Too late, realised Cecilia. Too late for talk. Too late for pleas, for a civilised end to this debate. She swung a shortened double barrelled shot gun from beneath her coat and dispatched the leader and his sneering sidekick, a barrel each to the chest. Loaded with boar shot, the gun was an automatic. But a show of force had been enough. The rest of the gang, armed only with clubs, turned and ran. Blood ran on the street, but it was a clean kill. A merciful one. Much as she had always abhorred violence, Cecilia was shocked to find that it had its place. Shocked to find that even she, a lifelong pacifist and protector of the underdog, had been forced to take up the gun. Force to shoot and kill in an open street in the capital city of the richest nation on the planet. How thin was the veneer of civilization, how quickly the reality of brute force raised its ugly head when a crisis hit. When it was his life or yours. Kill or be killed.
“This won’t be the last time we have to kill” trembled Harmony. “It will not” said Cecilia. “I hope we don’t come to enjoy it. I don’t want to descend to that level. Only yesterday I stood to uphold the law. Today I’m a murderer. Strange times.”
Later that evening, over 100 people turned up at Cecilia’s apartment block. They came as refugees. They came for protection in numbers to escape the gangs, the violence, the robbery on the streets. All were stunned, traumatised, terrified. Trembling and unbelieving but better now that they saw others like themselves. Better now they stood together against the forces of chaos and violence.
They brought guns and clubs and ammunition. The carried preserved food and medication. Blankets and firewood. Firelighters and barbeques. Blankets and bedding. And they would look for more tomorrow – supplies were still plentiful, since so many were dead and the gangs and only just begun their vile depredations.
“Welcome friends” said Cecilia. Standing on a battered wooden box she raised her voice and asked for quiet. And for calm. “Fear is our enemy; panic will undo us. A new order is here We must act decisively and with good will. Our priority is safety and physical survival. We will make this building our new home, our headquarters.”
The group became a commune. Though elections were not held, everyone took their different posts in good part. Duties were shared and rotated. Scavenging the empty city for food and supplies was conducted in small, armed groups for safety. Watch was kept over the home building day and night and the citizens took it in turns to walk the perimeters, check the roof, and keep all entrances secure from invaders.
A few other small groups had organised themselves likewise in the ruined city. So long as no one group sought to dominate the finite food supply or steal from other groups, a fragile peace could be maintained.
As in all societies there was a hard core minority of thugs and troublemakers, determined to take more than their fare share and subjugate others to their will. Both sides had by now secured weapons and there were open battles in the streets whenever contact could not be avoided. Such was the reality of a post-apocalyptic world where the rule of law had been replaced by the rule of might.
“Does anyone know what happened, what caused all this?” said Seth to the group who had gathered in the early evening outside Cecilia’s camp. It had all happened with such incredible swiftness. “No alien invasions” said Seth, “No enemy we can see or hear. So what happened?”
“A natural catastrophe, I guess. An explosion in the sun perhaps” answered an unwashed and tired woman who sat beside him. Fresh water was scarce and could not be spared for bathing. It had to be hauled up from wells or the river and distilled to avoid disease.
Happily, throughout the city, a few doctors remained to administer to the sick and wounded, but there was little they could do for the victims of radiation who were destined to die a slow and painful death. Lesser wounds and diseases could be mollified but no hospitals or operating theatres remained, and medical supplies dwindled.
With such wide scale destruction and so few left uninjured it seemed doubtful that factories could be restarted, power stations operated or running water put back on. It was not even clear that an accurate record of the necessary technology remained, let alone qualified engineers and scientists to re-start civilisation.
“I guess we have to rebuild from scratch” ventured Gregor, an engineer who had drifted into Ceclia’s commune. “Power, water, food and medication – it’ll be a cottage industry. Back to simple water mills. Windmills perhaps if we can find the materials even for something that basic.”
“My worry is the instability of the weather and the atmosphere” he went on. The city was by the sea, sitting on the estuary of a good-sized river, and water levels had begun to rise, flooding the lower lying areas. Huge waves rose over the harbour walls and fierce tides ripped remaining shipping from anchor. Biting cold was ever present and the red sun provided little respite.
Many would share the fate of the early pioneers of old. Too little infrastructure to support even a drastically reduced population. An ever-present threat of starvation from crop failure and death from plague or even simple influenza. And of course, the constant danger of physical violence from the criminal gangs.
Cecilia, Harmony and other leaders throughout the crippled planet battled against the odds. No one knew of the Bleak or their plans to shut down reality and if they had, it is doubtful they would understand what they were up against. An invisible network determined to destroy existence was not a possibility which would have occurred to a people who had not yet progressed to space travel and who only had the most basic of computing devices.
Sometimes the Bleak tried again after botching a job as they had in this star system. Sometimes they looked to see whether any of their kind was left and if not, they moved on to the next system or galaxy infected with the Bleak virus. Like a cancer, the Bleak would sometimes spontaneously re-emerge after a cleansing. Stamping themselves out of existence was by no means a simple matter. Leave even a shred of Bleak substrate and the demon would regrow, reform like a phoenix from the ashes. Soon enough its keening would be heard by the rest of the hive mind. The Bleak tired of the enormity of their task.
They could “see” what was happening on Ursa Odysseus. The information came in, was absorbed, categorised, stored, understood. But empathy had never developed and while saw the dead and the dying, the suffering of biological beings was not understood. Great as was their own suffering, the Bleak seemed oblivious of the suffering brought upon others by their actions. As man might ignore the ant or the earthworm, as humanity might doubt the existence pain in a fish, so with the Bleak. They had no comprehension (or perhaps interest) in what it was like to be a human. Or an animal. Let alone a suffering animal. It was not malice, merely a complete lack of comprehension.
And so, galaxy by galaxy, planet by planet, start by star, the extermination continued, and the Bleak tried and failed to exterminate their own kind. The Bleak could exist in and spread through almost any medium and so matter and energy itself had to cease to exist if the Bleak were to find a release from pain. Or so they thought.
Orbits were changed, living planets plummeted into ruined suns and accelerated the inevitable onset of super nova or black hole.
On planets such as Ursa Odysseus, all life became exposed to deadly cosmic rays and eventually died. Molten cores of iron eventually cooled, and life drained away. Weather systems became erratic and oceans generated great tidal waves which swamped all but the highest land masses.
On Ursa Odysseus these processes were just beginning but skies would darken, tsunami would eventually rage, and great lightning storms would make communications and navigation impossible. Equipment would fail, crops would cease to grow in the weakened sun. Tectonic plates would shift with increased speed and violence, faut lines would appear in the earth and the great hot underbelly of the wounded planet would seep out and cover much of the landmass in boiling, deadly lava.
The Bleak didn’t just pick on primitives – indeed it knew little about the life forms in any given star system. But if they destroyed a planet inhabited by star travellers, at least some of those peoples had a chance to move on.
Sufficiently advanced, a civilisation’s technology might detect the Bleak before a blow was struck. They might glean an inkling of what was about to befall them. If so, they might run – for only a highly sophisticated civilisation had any chance of protecting itself against an un-ravelling of matter itself. And so, some civilisations had survived – they had climbed abord their star ships and run-in terror as far and fast as they were able.
Maydays and SOS messages flooded the vicinity of an attack. Sometimes borne by crude radio waves, sometimes by more exotic carriers, depending on the sophistication of the senders.
And it was these messages which eventually found their way to the Guardians and other ascended races. Little was known about the Bleak and in a sense, the Guardians were little bothered by the phenomena. Known reality was so vast, of such a magnitude of infinity, that a primitive AI species run amok could hardly pose much of a threat – it seemed unlikely they could generate a chain reaction which would destroy everything there was. Everywhere, and for good.
And yet there was unease. The unknown was unsettling, especially for beings who had a valid claim to omniscience. The Bleak seemed to be a gap in their knowledge, their defences even. Little was known about the mechanics of their un-ravelling. What caused these chain reactions, what was the physics involved? And for that matter what exactly were the Bleak? Where had they come from and when?
The Bleak seemed to have emerged from nothing and nowhere and that in itself was alarming enough to warrant a little investigating.
Ascension of course meant that you were far away from trouble in the mere physical universe. At a metaphorical click of the finger, you could disappear into the ether never to be troubled by a quirk like the Bleak again.
And yet viruses and cancers were worrying and unpredictable. Might the Bleak discover ascension? And if so, would their cancer, their curse follow them when they left physical reality? Could the Bleak virus harm the non-material realm?
“Et in Arcadia Ego” went the old legend. “Even in heaven there am I”. Was death and terror and extinction even possible in the ascended realms? Could heaven be destroyed by some sort of technological Satan? Were the ascended races omnipotent after all, or, like Achilles of old, did they have an undiscovered chink in their armour?